How children feel in today's society

A refugee boy looks out the window of a bus taking him and other refugees across the border from Albania.

Approximately 6 in 10 children say they trust adults in general, with higher levels of trust among younger children, those in rural areas and who live in poorer families. Distrust of adults is slightly higher among children in the EU accession candidate countries (10%) than in Western European countries (7%).

Mothers (95%) and to a lesser degree, fathers (82%) are the most trusted adults. Boys tend to trust their fathers slightly more as do children from better-off families. Many (nearly 80%) children trust medical doctors, although girls, urban dwellers and the Western European children somewhat less. Seven in 10 children say they trust their teachers, but declines as children get older.

Across all countries, trust decreases with age toward all categories of adults except for mothers, who retain high levels of children's confidence. Younger children tend to trust adults or authorities to a considerably higher degree, as do children from larger families and those living with both parents.

About 60 per cent of children trust the military (as high as 70 per cent in former Yugoslavia, the Caucasus and Central Asia) and more than 1 in 10 distrust it, particularly girls. The police are seen as slightly less trustworthy (on average 54%, from 50% in countries in transition rising to 70% in Western Europe). Young people are much more likely to distrust police.

More than half the children - in particular girls - say they trust religious authorities, ranging from former Yugoslavia and the Caucasus (80%) and Central and South-eastern Europe (70%) to Central Asia (40%). Children's trust toward religious authorities declines with age.

Disaffection with government and politicians runs strong - overall, 33 per cent of children say they do not trust their government, particularly in the transition countries. Central Asian children express the highest level of trust. Older and urban children are much more likely to voice distrust, as are those in the EU accession candidate countries.

UNICEF/HQ92-0546/ JEREMY HARTLEY
Friends play on a farm in Gura Riului, Romania.

Heads of State fare slightly better than government as a whole, with nearly 4 in 10 children saying they trust their Head of State or President. Again, the exception is Central Asia where levels of trust are very high (75%). Overall, 28 per cent of children polled express distrust toward the President/Head of State, rising to 34% among the older age group.

There is a keen awareness of discrimination in society, especially among older children. While more children from higher socio-economic groups see patterns of discrimination, they themselves generally feel they have been treated fairly.

  • Half say disabled children are treated unfairly, particularly in South-eastern Europe and Western CIS.
  • More than half (from more than 60% in the Baltic States to 33% in Central Asia) say poor children are treated unfairly.
  • Three in 10 feel that children of different religious backgrounds suffer discrimination, particularly in Western European (36%) than transition countries (26%).
  • Thirty-six per cent believe that children from other ethnic groups are treated unfairly, more so in Central (45%) and Western Europe (44%) than transition countries (33%).
  • Asked if they themselves have ever been discriminated against, a third of the children report unfair treatment, notably those in transition countries (39%) than Western Europe (24%).
  • Girls (63%) are less likely than boys (59%) to report being discriminated against.

Forty-four per cent of the children polled say that they belong to some kind of
organized group or association, mostly sports clubs, and membership declines with age. Girls, rural children or children from poor families are less likely to belong, as are those in South-eastern Europe (79%) and in the Caucasus (72%) who say they do not belong to any group. There is a positive relationship between feeling happy and being part of a group. Almost half (46%) the children who say they are happy belong to a group compared to only 35% of those feeling unhappy.

Many children (80%) say they have personal heroes who are predominantly singers/musicians (30%) especially among girls (4 in 10 girls versus 2 in 10 boys); movie stars (20%), or athletes (20%) particularly among boys. Only 2% say they admire political leaders.

Click below to view the responses to the questions related to this issue:

• Do I trust adults?…(by region) [view]
• Do I trust adults?
(by gender, age, area, EU accession or socio-economic group)

• Do I trust authorities?…(by region) [view]
• Do I trust authorities?
(by gender, age, area, EU accession or socio-economic group)

• How are disabled children treated?…(by detailed region) [view]
• How are disabled children treated?
(by gender, age, area or socio-economic group)

• How are children of different religions treated?…(total by detailed region) [view]
• How are children of different religions?
(by gender, age, area or socio-economic group

• How are children of different ethnicity treated?…(by detailed region) [view]
• How are children of different ethnicity treated?
(by gender, age, area or socio-economic group)

• How are children from poor families treated?…(by detailed region) [view]
• How are children from poor families treated?
(by gender, age, area or socio-economic group)

• Have I ever been discriminated against?…(by detailed region) [view]
• Have I ever been discriminated against?
(by gender, age, area or socio-economic group)

• Do I belong to a group/club?…(by detailed region) [view]
• Do I belong to a group/club?
(by gender, age, area or socio-economic group)

This information is provided as a contribution to discussion on important issues affecting children. UNICEF Regional offices conducted the polls, analysis and interpretations of the findings. For more information, please contact the regional poll contact person directly.

About the survey
How happy children are
How children feel at home
How children feel at school
How children feel in today's society
How safe children feel
Children and harmful or illegal substances
How informed children are
Children's views on government and politics
How children see the future